ROGERS PARK — With less than a week left in the school year, a Chicago Public Schools official told Rogers Park parents Wednesday he had "100 percent confidence" a plan to shift the fourth-grade class between two neighborhood schools would be approved by CPS in the coming days.
James Dispensa, manager of demographics and space planning for CPS, said he began looking at numbers from New Field third-graders in April and realized there was a "drop-off" when it came to those students following through to nearby Eugene Field Elementary School, 7019 N. Ashland Blvd., which holds fourth through eighth grades.
Under the new plan, the fourth-grade class would be moved from Eugene Field to New Field, officials said.
At New Field, 1707 W. Morse Ave., each grade would have about four homeroom classes, Dispensa said, adding that he already had floor plans that he proposed sharing with New Field's Local School Council.
The fourth-grade students would be able to fit into the building without getting rid of any music or art rooms, Principal Carlos Patiño said.
Dispensa said he predicted nearly all of the third-graders would stay at New Field if given the opportunity to remain another year, but would need parents to tell Patiño as soon as possible if they would stay at New Field under the new plan or not.
"We would urge the parents of the third-graders who are considering applying to a different school, maybe you're considering applying to a charter school, maybe ... applying to same other neighborhood school," Dispensa said. "Whatever the case, I want everyone to be confident that this proposal will be approved, and we'll be sure before the school year ends to confirm that."
Parents Want A Plan
Though many parents at the meeting Wednesday said they had expressed wishes for New Field Elementary to add a fourth grade, if not find a way to create a traditional K-8 school, some expressed concerns about the lack of a long-term future "plan" and sudden timing.
Since neither school fit the K-8 model, administrators said the new plan would be an easy way to make New Field closer to an elementary school, and Eugene Field more like a middle school.
Parents and teachers at New Field expressed worry that the plan didn't offer a long-term vision for what would become of either school: Eugene Field is already only 43 percent utilized (underutilized by CPS standards) and would lose its fourth-grade students.
CPS didn't immediately comment on what would happen to Eugene Field's fourth-grade teachers if the move was approved.
At New Field, parents said they were concerned the problem would repeat itself when kids transitioned into the fifth grade.
Parents said they liked the idea of students staying longer at New Field, but also did not want to see Eugene Field fall by the wayside.
"Let's come up with a plan, please," parent Rebecca Weinberg said. "The last thing this neighborhood needs is another giant empty building.
"I don't want to see that happen to Eugene Field ... let's find a way to make it amazing, because this neighborhood deserves something amazing."
CPS schools let out for summer break Tuesday, leaving some parents asking when they would know the fate of the fourth grade.
Parents asked how the move would impact school budgets at both buildings, but Dispensa said he didn't know because principals had not yet received budgets for next year.
Once the plan was approved, he said he could get a more accurate count on the expected number of students at the school, which would affect how much money the school received under CPS' student-based-budgeting system.
Dispensa said he was "confident" CPS CEO Forrest Claypool would approve the class switch, but denied the proposal was a "done deal."
He said he would check in with Patiño to see about how many parents of the roughly 93 third-graders said they would stay, and within a few days would let the school know if the plan was approved.
Patiño said he understood concerns, and Dispensa said he let Patiño know about CPS' idea to shift grades only a few weeks ago.
Patiño said he felt "honored" that CPS had faith in his school and teachers to support another group of students in the community.
"I do feel honored, and somewhat like, a confidence, that CPS puts in us, our staff and our family that we can do this," Patiño said. "I feel confident in this challenge to make the fourth grade a stronger reflection, a more cohesive piece to what we're doing.
"I feel really excited, but it does beg the question of, 'What's next?'"
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